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Today is June 4, 2020

Grin 'n' Bare It

He keeps on giving back

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

Some people give back, while most of us are primarily takers. I enjoy writing about people who make a difference in their communities and the lives of people around them. Stories about people like this make us feel good and hopefully inspire us to do similar good deeds.

A couple years ago, I told you about Mr. Roy and our friend Dayton Whites writing a book about Lucedale during the 1940s, entitled “The Best Little Town.” Dayton has always loved Lucedale and George County, and he started giving back to the people in this area early in life. After completing medical school and an internship at Greenville, S.C., Dayton practiced medicine in George County for 40 years before retiring in 1999.

Our friend has always described himself as a “country doctor,” and if that describes a caring physician who has a sincere concern for his patients, then I agree with this title.  

After he retired from medical practice, he served two terms as mayor of Lucedale.

Dayton said that he had always looked at a wetlands area on the east side of town and felt that it should be preserved for future generations. And when an old friend encouraged him to do something so that future kids would have a place nearby to fish, he got busy.

He asked the Luce family, who owned the property, to donate it to the Mississippi Coastal Plains Land Trust, and the city received a grant to build a 3/4-mile raised wooden walkway, including fishing and observation areas.

This 62-acre wetlands is now named the Lucedale Depot Greenway and protected for generations to come.

Another area that Dayton began looking at in 2007 was a 40-acre woodland area just north of town that would make a good nature trail and tie into the Greenway and the City Park. He applied for a Katrina grant that was available, and this provided  funds to purchase the land and begin work on the trail. Today a 1 1/4-mile nature trail is available for hiking.

Prior to his becoming mayor, Dr. Whites was told that the city was going to remove an old dilapidated building it owned, called “The Business Girls Clubhouse.” He looked at it and said, “I can’t let that old building be destroyed. Let’s renovate it.”

And that’s what he did. With mostly volunteers and inmate labor, the building was restored to its original design. It has been used for almost 20 years as the Chamber of Commerce Building.

Just north of the Business Girl’s Club house, in the next block, is a building that was known as the Legion Hut. It was built in the late 1940s by the American Legion as a place to hold their meetings and other functions. In 2005 the building was in bad condition, and the VFW who owned it was faced with having to sell the property.  

Again, Dr. Whites did not want to see this landmark demolished. So, he went to the leaders of the local VFW and made them a deal. If they would donate the building and land to the city, the city would renovate the building, and the VFW could use it for their meetings as long as they needed to. A deal was made and the building was completely renovated.

Again, with city and inmate labor as well as volunteers and his own labor, another landmark was saved. Today the building is the Lucedale Fine Arts Center and is regularly used for art shows, recitals and other public gatherings.

Early this year Mayor Nelson and the city board were told by Buddy Horn and his wife, Patsy, that they wanted to donate a piece of property they had inherited to the city. This property, on Main Street, is commonly known as the old Paul Kinch Service Station, built in 1923. The building was vacant and not used. The mayor said, “Well there’s only one person to contact. Let’s talk to Dr. Whites.”

And as we all knew he would, Dayton said, “Yes, I’ll be glad to head up the project.”

Work was completed in August, and now we have a new Chamber of Commerce Building on Main Street.  

Thank you, Dayton. Every small town needs a Dr. Whites.

Kay Grafe is the author of “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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